Published: 10:01, February 23, 2024 | Updated: 11:43, February 23, 2024
Israel to send delegation to Gaza truce talks in Paris
By Xinhua

Palestinians inspect the rubble of the Al Daalese family building after an Israeli airstrike in Nusseirat refugee camp, central Gaza Strip, Feb 22, 2024. (PHOTO / AP)

JERUSALEM/GAZA - Israel's war cabinet decided on Thursday night to send a delegation for Gaza ceasefire talks in Paris on Friday, as international negotiators renew efforts to secure a deal between Israel and Hamas.

A government official confirmed to Xinhua that the head of the Mossad intelligence agency, David Barnea, will lead the Israeli delegation. The talks will be attended by Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani and Director of US Central Intelligence Agency William Burns.

The White House's Middle East coordinator, Brett McGurk, was in Israel on Thursday for talks with senior officials to negotiate the release of hostages held in Gaza and to secure a pause in the fighting.

McGurk's visit comes amid heightened efforts to broker a ceasefire agreement, as Israel's declared intention to launch an incursion into the densely populated city of Rafah raised global concern and more than four months of heavy Israeli bombardments in the Gaza Strip had killed 29,410 Palestinians and wounded 69,465 others as of Thursday.

After meeting McGurk, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that the Israel Defense Forces was "preparing the continuation of intense ground operations."

Gallant's office said in a statement that their meeting focused on efforts to free the remaining 134 hostages still held in Gaza, at least 30 of whom are believed to be dead.

ALSO READ: Israel asks Hamas to 'soften stance' amid talks for Gaza truce

Demonstrators hold placards reading "From Gaza to Paris. Resistance " during a pro-Palestinian rally in Paris, Jan 13, 2024. (PHOTO / AP)

More than 240 people in Israel were taken hostage on Oct 7, 2023, when Hamas launched a surprise attack on southern Israel that killed about 1,200 people. A total of 112 live hostages have been released, most of them during a hostage-for-prisoner swap under a fragile truce in November, according to Israeli figures.

In Rafah, Israeli bombardment flattened the al-Farouk Mosque and hit seven houses, according to Gazan authorities. At least 97 people were killed

Citing senior officials, Israel's Channel 12 TV news reported that Hamas has softened its stance, agreeing to a six-week pause instead of its previous demand to end the war.

On Wednesday, Israel's Wartime Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz said in a televised press briefing that "there are ongoing attempts to promote a new hostage deal, and there are promising early signs of possible progress." According to Gantz, Israel "will not stop looking for a way, and we will not miss any opportunity to bring our girls and boys home."

The indications of progress were reported 10 days after a meeting in Cairo of US, Israeli, Qatari and Egyptian negotiators failed to achieve a breakthrough. Following the meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Hamas's proposal for a 4.5-month-long truce after which the Israeli forces would withdraw from Gaza.

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Meanwhile, Israeli forces continue their onslaught in Gaza. In Rafah, Gaza's southernmost city, Israeli bombardment flattened the al-Farouk Mosque and hit seven houses, according to Gazan authorities. At least 97 people were killed and 132 others injured in the attacks during the past day.

The IDF confirmed in a statement that "IAF, Navy and ground troops continue to destroy terrorist infrastructure throughout the Gaza Strip."

Israeli airstrikes kill 40

At least 40 Palestinians were killed and 100 others injured in Israeli airstrikes on the central Gaza Strip, the media office of the Hamas-run government in Gaza said in a press statement on Thursday.

Palestinian security sources told Xinhua that Israeli aircraft launched several raids on a number of residential houses in the city of Deir el-Balah, which led to their complete destruction.

The Hamas-run Health Ministry noted that the bodies of some victims had been transferred to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital.

Ambulances and civil defense teams rushed to the sites of the attacks to save people after the Israeli raids left the neighborhood severely damaged, the security sources added.

Medical sources said that the al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital is now crowded with thousands of wounded, sick and displaced people.